January in Review

Monday, January 31, 2011

January in Review

As my schooling nears to an end, I've finally been able to return to blogging (and reading) at the pace I like. I read more books this month than I read in any one month in all of 2010... and at least doubled the number of books for half of those months. In fact, the only time I've ever read as many as I did were January of 2009 (January tends to be a good month) and two months in 2008 (including the January). All of those months were before I started my internship. Granted, they weren't all huge books, but I averaged about 300 pages a book. I suspect my reading will slow a little for February, as this will be the month I have to really get down and focus on getting every last thing done to graduate. Though school technically goes a month into March, it would be fantastic if I could be officially done by the end of February so I don't stress and have to squeeze anything in. No worries on this front, though. I have seven pre-written reviews, and two more I plan on writing in the next few days! So technically I could not read a thing and still have enough content for at least a month. (As if I wouldn't read for a month... haha).

This month I started off with a review of Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. I received this for Christmas from my in-laws and cracked it open that day. Fantastic and highly recommended! Then I talked about the books I resolve to read this year. (I've already made some headway!) I followed that up with Matched by Ally Condie on which my opinions were in the minority. I talked about BEA 2011 and asked what everyone's plans were. (I still don't know). Next came the BEST BOOK EVER, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I extremely enjoyed that one which I think is incredibly obvious! ;) Unfortunately, after that I was disappointed (ironically) by Mr. Foer's wife's new book, Great House (by Nicole Krauss).

The next three I reviewed were Condoleezza Rice's memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf, and Decision Points by George W. Bush. Then I did a throwback to the childrens' works of E.B. White. I followed that up with the CONTROVERSIAL Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. It didn't change my mind about tiger/chinese parenting, but I really enjoyed the book. For those of you worried, it really is a memoir and not an instructional book by any means! I reminded everyone about the release of Delirious by Daniel Palmer (Michael Palmer's son), and then thanked James Franco for solving a years-long mystery for me. Then I finished up the month with a blog tour review for Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.

I'm really excited about some of the books I'll be reviewing in February... especially the one I have scheduled for Valentine's Day. (Though I haven't actually read it yet... so I suppose that could change). And I'm super excited about something I'll be participating in in a few months thanks to my bloggy friend, Heather, over at Raging Bibliomania, but more news on that later!!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Title: Wench
Author: Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Pages: 290
Genre: Fiction; Historical
Publisher: Amistad (Harper Collins)
Release Date: January 5, 2010

This fictional novel is based on a real place in history, Tawawa House. Tawawa House was located in Ohio and was where, prior to the civil war, white men (typically Southerners) would vacation during the summer with their "favorite" slave (or "wench"). It was one of those things everyone knew but didn't talk about -- men "taking up" with their female slaves, fathering children, yet still enslaving these women. Ohio was also a free state meaning they were surrounded, while there on vacation, by other black people who were living freely.

The book takes place mainly over a few summers. The main character, Lizzie, is treated fairly well by her owner, Drayle, though not as much so by his wife, Fran. Though Fran was unable to bear her husband any children, Lizzie did -- a boy and a girl. She and the children are given some preferential treatment. Drayle has Lizzie accompany him on these summer trips, and Lizzie believes she and Drayle have a true relationship of mutual love. Of course, Lizzie is conflicted in her belief as she still has to try and coax Drayle into freeing her (their) children -- not to mention she is still enslaved.

During the summer at Tawawa House, Lizzie befriends other slave women: Reenie, an older woman, Sweet, who is pregnant at the outset of the novel, and Mawu, a rebellious woman with a bright red shock of hair. It comes to their attention during this summer of 1853 that just along the way is a resort for "free blacks". As they spend time in this area, so much more progressive than where they come from, they are tempted by the thought of running away and becoming free themselves.

The author did a great job in Wench of bringing to light for the reader the complicated dynamics between the "master" and the "enslaved mistresses". Each of these women was tempted to run for freedom, yet they had other realities to take into consideration: for instance, if they were caught they would be severely punished and their quality of life afterward would likely be immensely worse. They also had to consider their children -- not only the thought of leaving their children behind but the potential punishments that would be taken out on the children instead. And possibly the most complex, and an interesting psychological issue, was the relationship between the enslaved mistress and the master in which there may or may not have been actual love. In Wench, some of the women have no question about their disdain for their masters; but Lizzie believes she truly does love her master, and he her.

Wench also did a great job of depicting the typical daily life of a slave and how barbarous and unjust the practice was. Not that I didn't already know that but it was a raw reminder. It had my blood boiling at times, reading about the way these human beings were treated. And what an interesting dynamic between the master and his enslaved children. These men would impregnate their slaves and despite the children being their own flesh and blood, they still treated them as nothing more than objects of their ownership.

Wench was a quick and engaging read that provided a glimpse into the lives of the slaves at Tawawa House and the complex dynamics between the slaves and their owners at a time when they first started realizing that freedom was a genuine possibility. A recommended read!

Click here for links to the rest of this tour with TLC Book Tours.

Thank You, James Franco!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I owe James Franco big time. Yup, that James Franco: the movie star, now author.

Let me explain.

Several years ago, I started trying to remember the name of an author who wrote children's books. I had memories of, as a child, scouring the section with his books to see if there were any more I had yet to read. As an adult, I could only remember some vague details about his books, but I'd seen people in "bookish" communities locate all kinds of books/authors with little description to off. So I asked. I feel like I asked everywhere. Here's what I knew.
  • The author was also the illustrator.
  • The illustrations were beautifully well-done. And they were colored in what looked like color pencil.
  • From what I remembered, all his books were about animals.

  • The books were long.

  • Each page had a lot of writing, and the writing was somewhat more difficult. Like it wasn't your typical kids' book.

And I think that's all I could remember. And no one could ever figure out who I was talking about.

Do you see where this is going? James Franco figured it out for me. (I didn't even realize he was listening! LOL) After several years, James Franco answered my question. It's like he just said, "Oh Jenny. This is who it is."

Okay, I'll be honest, we didn't technically speak to each other. In all reality, I was reading his debut book, Palo Alto, which is a book of short stories. (Review for that will be up in the near future). I don't even remember which story it was in, but one of his characters is reminiscing back to this specific author's books that he used to read.

Bill Peet.

As soon as I saw that I may have *gasped*. Is that him?? Are those the books? The name does sound familiar! So I quickly put down the book and googled his name. And I recognized the book covers instantly. They look just the way I remembered from over 20 years ago. And look at one sentence I found on wikipedia:

"Unlike most other children's authors, Peet did not dumb down the vocabulary of his stories, but somehow managed to include enough context to make the meaning of difficult words obvious."

That explains my memory of the books being more difficult.

So now the mystery has been solved and I'm excited to head out to the bookstore and check these out! I am very seriously contemplating buying them one at a time for my to-be-started children's book collection. But that is a topic for another day.

Thank you, James Franco!

Release Reminder: Delirious

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Delirious by Daniel Palmer is out today!
Click here to see my review.

You can read the prologue here.
And pre-order here.

Also, the author is a musician, so if you're interested, you can download his album, Home Sweet Home, for FREE! at http://bit.ly/fW6SN3

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Author: Amy Chua
Pages: 256
Genre: Memoir; Sociology; Culture
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pub. Date: January 11, 2011

Never has a book that I haven't read caused such intense emotions for me -- emotions that necessitated my taking deep, calming breaths every time I thought about it. Although I did see this book in the stores, I didn't pay much heed because the cover didn't draw me in. But then I saw blog posts and articles popping up and I learned what this nugget was about. The Asian style of parenting!! The author refers to it as "Chinese parenting". (I would link but commentaries have been written in all the major periodicals out there, so you'd be fine just googling it). The articles excerpt the book including examples of the author's parenting decisions: no sleepovers, play dates, tv, or video games for her children; calling her children "garbage" and other degrading names; forcing hours and hours and hours of practice time on the piano and violin -- going so far as to forbid bathroom or water breaks until a certain piece was perfected; expecting all around perfection from her children; rejecting birthday cards they made her because the lack of quality reflected the dearth of time spent on making them. Furthermore, in everything written about her, the author, Amy Chua, (who happens to be a Yale law professor), sounds arrogant in her insistence that "Chinese parenting" is far superior to that of "Western parents".

The discussions of this book made my blood boil. I have passionate feelings about parenting which, I'm sure, has a lot to do with how I ended up in the field(s) of work that I did. We already know child abuse is a problem, but many people underestimate the quantity and significance of emotional abuse. And I consider extreme parenting like that to be emotionally abusive in nature. And there is research out there that shows the unhealthy and otherwise negative effects of such extreme parenting. And though many Asians fit into the stereotype of being great, smart, often perfect students, there are also many Asian Americans who seek therapy for the same things that made them that way. And being Asian American myself (technically bi-racial or bi-ethnical, if you will) I have very personal feelings regarding the Eastern attitude toward parenting.

*Whew*. Those feelings were intense. Then I found yet another article about the book in People, and the author talked about how she ultimately had her "comeuppance". So, with my curiosity about that and my thoughts that I should not allow a book I haven't read affect me in such a way, I decided to read the book and see what I felt afterward.

Now, my opinion towards that type of parenting has not changed. But I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this short and engaging cultural, parenting memoir. I almost feel like I can understand the author slightly more, though I still don't agree with her. Ironically, it's possible that, in the end, I may relate to or appreciate this book more so than some "westerners" who have never been exposed to Asian culture. None of the Eastern belief systems and thought processes were new to me since I do have one Asian parent. (I do think, though, that anyone would be fascinated with this book).

I also wanted to point out that I do agree that there are some flaws in the very western form of parenting. For instance, I believe that in many ways, the typical expectations for children are too low. I'm a proponent of Michelle Rhee's Students First campaign in which she aims to transform our educational system. I wanted to point this out because it's not about an eastern/western thing for me. I have my own opinions in general, though overall I tend to lean towards the western style of parenting.

Anyway, I've rambled enough. Ultimately, I was happy to meet this family and learn more about them. In terms of technicalities, the succinct chapters maintained a quick pace in the book in which enough information and anecdotes were given to keep the reader interested without overdoing the topic. I was surprised that the focus of the book was so heavy on the children's musical "careers". While she hinted that her parenting style rolled over to all topics, the author talks mainly about the issues they had with the girls practice time, performances, etc. On the other hand, this is a largely Asian concept -- the extreme focus on learning "classical" instruments. I played the piano off and on until I was 13-years-old when I insisted to my dissenting mother that I quit playing. However, I think I would have maybe liked to see more of their interactions regarding other areas.

I do think the author was brave to write this book. She was brave in "exposing" herself and her family (which just so happens to be a very non-Asian thing to do). She even mentions the therapeutic nature of writing this book which also is a non-Asian concept. She has hailed a storm of critics who have loudly spoken out against her (me not excluded, though I'm less credentialed or significant than the journalists who have done so...)

There were several times throughout the book when I literally laughed out loud. I loved reading the interactions between her and her daughters. Her younger daughter was the one who, essentially, called her on her ridiculosities (totally made-up by me word) and threw her for a loop when she didn't know how to react to her daughter's disobedience. I related a lot to the older daughter (being the older of two girls myself) in the way she just went along with most of it. But there were moments when she too yelled out in anger towards her mother and I could understand exactly where she was coming from. It was a new and uncomfortable feeling for the author during one specific scene when her fight with her youngest came to a head. The author talked about how before her eyes, she became one of those "western" parents with a disrespectful, bad (paraphrasing) kid. But that made me realize just how much this author didn't know. In what I found a powerful scene, her older daughter, Sophie, who was being yelled at for her stupidity in forgetting again to close the pantry door to keep the dogs out of the food, stands up for herself and points out how great a daughter she truly is. Again, I totally related, and I wanted to swoop in and validate her thoughts and feelings, and then yank the author off with me to see the horrors of the families that I see every day.

Ultimately, I don't know how much the author really learned about parenting. I think this part is sort of subjective to the reader because of the way the ending was written. It's possible that even the author isn't quite sure. I think she may have traveled to a place where she is more open-minded. But sort of in the way that the families on Wife Swap are when they return -- they learn to appreciate a few things from the other side, but only incorporate them rather than change everything. And that's fine. I get that. But I think that underestimating the significance of positive self-esteem and autonomy is a very dangerous thing. The author was very lucky to wind up with such wonderful girls. I do think, though, that it came across that she loves her girls. And while I don't agree with the parenting decisions, she had a purpose she felt was justified for everything she did. I think it could have/should have been done differently, but I did want to differentiate the author from those parents who have zero regard for their children in the first place who call their children names, etc.

So even though I'm not quite sure that the author completely had the "comeuppance" she mentioned in People Magazine, I am glad I read this because my blood stopped boiling. I no longer need to calm myself down. I like this family. And I feel a little hypocritical, but I would love to hear her children's music... they're apparently (and NOT just according to family) the best!

This is not a book I feel was intended to offend. I think the intention was more being straight and answering the question so many have asked of her regarding how her children became so perfect. This is a book about the differences in beliefs and parenting in eastern and western cultures. I think most will be riveted by this book!

**Oh, I wanted to add a disclaimer to something she writes in the book. I am half-Korean. I know many Korean people. Not I nor anyone I have ever met eats dog. My Korean relatives have dogs as pets just like we do here. Please do not perpetuate this stereotype. Some Americans eat rabbit, but I wouldn't generalize that to all Americans and certainly not to someone like myself who has had a rabbit as a very lovable and very loved pet. Ok, disclaimer over.**

Throwback Thursday: Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Throwback Thursday – this is an event hosted by me! It used to take place weekly, but is now once a month on this blog. It is the time to recognize those older books… an older book you’ve always wanted to read, or one that you have read and love; maybe one from your childhood; or review an older book -- how about even a classic! Leave a comment here and feel free to take an icon and use it on your blog! Also feel free to do this on as many Thursdays as you like. =)

This month's throwback is actually three books all by author, E.B. White:

Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan

When I was little, I had a box set of these three books (these exact covers). I wasn't ever as huge a fan of Charlotte's Web as some people are, but it's a children's classic and I did like it. I remember I loved Stuart Little because I loved the idea of a little tiny mouse living like a human. Unfortunately, my copy of this book succumbed to the forces of nature... I left it out on the swing set one day and it poured rain all over the book. I was so sad, but I never told anyone because I was afraid I'd get in trouble. (Maybe I should finally admit this to my parents, LOL). And I never actually did read The Trumpet of the Swan. The pages in the copy I had were all out of order and were bound that way!

I'm not sure whatever did happen to my good copy of Charlotte's Web. But, no worries. On my first trip to the Strand in NYC, I bought a copy that has all three of these books in one. One day I'll get to it. =)

Decision Points

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Title: Decision Points
Author: George W. Bush
Pages: 477
Genre: Non-Fiction; Political
Publisher: Crown (Crown/Random House)
Release Date: November 9, 2010

I can just feel people on the edge as they see this book review come up in their feed readers or pop up on their screens when they go to my blog. If you've stopped to take a look at this review, then hopefully you're of the open minded sort who can hear talk of our 43rd president without unleashing a fury of expletives. Or maybe you happen to be a republican (and/or are otherwise a supporter of W, though I've never met a non-republican who is) and we can have a genial conversation. Regardless of what the majority opinion is, George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States and endured a difficult presidency riddled with various tragedies and hardships. In his memoir on his eight years in presidency, Bush focuses on the most critical decisions he had to make. I think this is a good read for anyone wanting to learn more about the period of our recent history just to get a better grasp of what all was happening then but also to understand where our president was coming from in the decisions he made.

For the most part, the book was very engaging. There were parts where I was as caught up in the reading and events as though it were fiction. *I realize these real events have had real consequences for real people... I mean only that the style of writing was engaging and made me want to read on/learn more.* And there were other parts that weren't quite as interesting, but overall, I found each chapter interesting in one way or another. I really like the way the book was broken up. It didn't overly focus on any one thing. Instead, it was broken up into major decisions: for instance, one chapter focuses on his decision regarding stem cell research, another on September 11th, one on Afghanistan, another on Iraq, one on Katrina, and, of course, one on the recent financial crisis. The beginning has a chapter on Personnel (I had never really put much thought into the fact that a president essentially gets to/has to hire his entire staff). I really thought breaking the chapters up by issue rather than an overall chronology made the reading easier and more interesting.

I also felt the book was honest. I was surprised at the amount of "declassified" information that was included, though some of it is necessary to understand how decisions were made. Keep in mind, as citizens of the U.S. we are still privy to very little information, and 99% of the information we do receive is filtered through the media. We don't wake up every single day with intelligence reports and security briefings. Maybe because I've never really thought too much about the government or job of the presidency before, but I thought these aspects were pretty fascinating. But I also felt it was honest because Bush admits where he made mistakes in certain places or how he would change things if he could re-do them now. In that sense, I felt this book was a pretty straight-forward telling of the presidency in the words of former President Bush.

I worried a little that with such an emphasis on the dealings with the middle east (things I am sadly ignorant of and often confused by) as well as the "war on terror" etc. that I would be terribly lost and bored. But I have to say that the chapters on Afghanistan and Iraq turned out to actually be two of the most interesting and engaging for me. These focused largely on why and how Bush made decisions related to these countries. I also picked up a lot of knowledge (or at least refresher) on my knowledge of the rest of the world.

I wish every president would publish a book like this after he has completed his term(s) in the white house. It was interesting to reflect back on everything that happened in those eight years and to see them from his point of view. I think that this book is good for all Americans, not at all just for those in the same party. That being said, those who are strongly, adamantly, opposed to Bush and his policies, or to conservatives, in general, and are not willing to look at things from another viewpoint should likely stay away from this book mainly because I know some people who I could see getting mad just because they don't agree and I hate that kind of negativity. But I hope most people out there are able to overcome that and reflect. I would love to read a book like this from every president, regardless of party, because I think it's important to understand the workings of our country (and world) as well as have an understanding of what our children, grandchildren, great-grands, etc. will be reading in their history books.

These Things Hidden

Monday, January 17, 2011

Title: These Things Hidden
Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Mira (Harlequin)
Pub. Date: January 18 (or 25), 2011 (depending on where you look)

I wasn't sure what to expect when I went into this, especially since I hadn't read the author's debut, The Weight of Silence, but I was impressed with what I found to be a solid contemporary/women's fiction novel that had elements of suspense and definite mystery.

The narration switches among four people:
  • Allison -- Pretty much the main character; just got out of jail after 5 years (also 5 years early) for a horrendous crime that we learn more about throughout the book; is 21-years old and moving into a halfway house; used to be the "perfect" girl according to her parents and teachers, but now her parents have disowned her and everyone in town hates her.

  • Brynn -- Allison's sister; the crime has affected her too because everyone now knows her as that girl's sister; sister dynamic with Allison is complicated.

  • Claire -- Owner of the local bookstore, Bookends; has an adopted 5-year-old son, Joshua.

  • Charm -- Nursing student; likes to stop by the bookstore often; lives with an ex-stepfather because her mom doesn't do the parent job well.

But, you may have guessed it... all these women are connected more than they realize. It was fun trying to figure out how, because early on I couldn't see the connection at all. This book was full of secrets and surprises. Some things we are given a good idea about up front but we learn more through the course of the book, but other secrets were surprises for me. And at the end all "these things hidden" came spiraling together into a traumatic and tense moment of culmination. On top of that I was shocked at one thing and then cried which I completely was not expecting.

There was one, minor, logistical detail that I thought might make the story unplausible. I mean, it's possible but it just made me wonder. But other than that, I really got into this story that encompassed themes of secrets, sisters, families, and dependence on others.

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family

Friday, January 14, 2011

Title: Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family
Author: Condoleezza Rice
Pages: 325
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Release Date: October 12, 2010

I had the opportunity to see Ms. Rice speak during the author's breakfast at last year's Book Expo America (May 2010) in New York City. She gave a compelling speech that even led Jon Stewart, host of the breakfast, and political adversary - if you will - to state, "Don't.Make.Me.Like.You...." I think hers was a story worth telling, for sure. She grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1960's in the middle of the civil rights movement. Yet, her parents didn't allow the discrimination, inherent at the time, to stop them from achieving success.

Much of this book seemed a tribute to Ms. Rice's parents. She wrote about her childhood and the wonderful influence of her parents. Parents who insisted she achieved an education, they provided her with all their love and made her believe through their encouragement and nurturing that, despite the racial tensions and, despite any and all possible barriers, that she could be whatever she wanted. There's a picture of Condoleezza standing in front of the White House when she was about 8-years-old; though she doesn't remember it, Condoleezza stated her parents reported her saying she would work there one day. And as we all know, she was right! "Condi's" story is also, then, a testament to the power of education.

One of the aspects of this book that I really enjoyed was getting to know her parents. For me, personally, it was inspiring to see an example of really good parenting and how well the child turned out. Considering I teach parenting and work fully in the field of child welfare, where people believe that a child can't be raised well without beating into submission, or feel that there are just too many barriers to even dream of any success, or feel that criticizing or ignoring their children is better than encouraging and supporting, this story was a breath of fresh air. I think that almost no one can compare themselves to Condi growing up during that time in the United States and excelling to where she is now, and abjectly state that there's just too much to overcome.

But that being said, there were moments when I felt Condoleezza chronicled her childhood a little too thoroughly. Then, contrastingly, the second half of the book jumped through the rest of her years to where she is now. I had invested so much time into her grade school years that to fly through her twenties, thirties, and forties was a little disconcerting. In the second half of the book, she talks more about her education in soviet policies and her political work at the White House. I did find this part interesting, to a degree, but felt it didn't flow well with the nature of the first part of the book. She could easily have made this book into two.

So, while I felt these aforementioned things, I still would definitely recommend this book for those interested in Condoleezza's background or for those looking for a good memoir about how she overcame obstacles to find the success she has today. There is also apparently a young adult version of this book, Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me, that may be a good way to reach those younger readers (though it should be noted I haven't read any of that version).

Great House

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Title: Great House
Author: Nicole Krauss
Pages: 289
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Pub. Date: October 12, 2010

I'm sorry. I just didn't get this.
I was really looking forward to it because I loved The History of Love, and though I remember that being a somewhat difficult read that was rewarding in the end, this one was just too much. I did NOT like it.

Krauss tells four different stories that I suppose are to be tied together by this apparently magnificent, elusive desk of drawers. (Although I would like to own that desk, it really didn't have as much to do with the stories as I think it's been made out to be). I really just found a lot of this book pretentious. The first character is apparently talking to a judge. It's in second person (as is another of the four story lines) and she says "Your Honor". But you don't find out why until later and then it was anticlimactic. And I'm pretty sure I *got* it but I can't be 100% sure. And even though the rest of the connections were more obvious, they just meant nothing to me by the time I got to the end.

And can you say stream-of-consciousness?? The characters thoughts just went on and on and kept losing me. The sentences were long. There were no quotation marks separating dialogue. For a relatively short book (289 pages) the reading was tedious and felt like it was much longer. I felt early on that this wasn't the book for me but I pushed through with the thought that there had to be that big, impactful moment somewhere or maybe by the end, but I never saw it.

Of course, in the parts where Krauss's writing kept my attention, her wording was beautiful. And there were moments of insight that I found powerful enough; but it was difficult to appreciate it much because it was bogged down by so many other things. Those parts that I did understand, though, were extremely sad.

It disheartens me to say these things because though I've only read one of her other books, I really thought that one was fantastic. And hey, there are other readers out there who adored this book, and it was short listed for the National Book Award and is also currently short listed for the Indie Lit Awards.

But as for me... I feel a little upset at the hours I spent reading this one. =(

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Title: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Pages: 326
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 4, 2005


Loved this!
In fact, I think it might be my new favorite book!

....What can I even say? I'm joining the ranks of people who have fallen in love with this book. It was amazing... and I'm not really even sure that I can fully explain why. But I will try!

For starters, I just think this may have been the most human book I've ever read. Human in that the emotion in this book was so raw. Emotion in the characters; in me, the reader. It's mostly told from the perspective of 9-year-old, Oskar Schell, also quite possibly my favorite character ever. He's super intelligent, strangely precocious, and somewhat socially awkward. He's grappling with the immense grief of losing his father on September 11th. Oskar finds a key in an envelope labeled "Black" in his father's closet, so he decides to embark on a journey to find the lock that the key fits into by visiting everyone in New York's five boroughs with the last name, Black. That journey is essentially the backdrop to a young kid missing his father and learning about life and death. There are also a couple sections written by two other people with a different but similar storyline who have a connection to Oskar.

This was also a powerful depiction of life after September 11th, 2001 for at least one 9-year-old boy. But in the way that Foer makes the book transcend just the one person, just his emotions, just his thoughts, the atmosphere of this novel really enveloped me to where I felt that even though I was reading about Oskar, I was feeling it for myself. Powerful, right??

The synopsis can't do this book justice. I don't know how the author did it, but this wasn't just a book I read. It was more like an experience! I felt like I was transported somewhere and returned with a heart ten times its normal size. I felt like, when I was done, all I wanted to do was hold onto this book, get rid of all my other books, and just read this one over and over again. It's sort of bizarre! I am in awe of Mr. Jonathan Safran Foer for his ability to produce this work of art.

I will say this book was different. There were some visual aspects to the book in the form of pictures or color or font or page layout. It was enough to add a different dimension to the book but few enough that it wasn't distracting or take over the main story. I'll admit there was even a time near the beginning when I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to really get into it, even though I did find it engaging, but I moved on from that quickly. There are some critics out there (because nothing exists that doesn't have critics) who say the author is pretentious and the work contrived. I think with the style of writing Foer utlized, you have to be careful because it does border on it. But I thought Foer absolutely pulled it off!

Some random things I loved:
  • how Oskar would say "what the?" every time he was shocked or confused.
  • how I feel like I got stuff but I know I could read it again and get even more from it
  • how one of the characters had to learn a new way to communicate and how others conformed to that.
  • heavy boots
  • Oskar's "inventions" and questions
  • googolplex
  • how Oskar only wears white. and why.
  • how he defines certain things in his life as his raison d'etre.
Anyway, here's another review by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity who also loved this book.

This book is also being turned into a movie coming out in 2012. It stars Tom Hanks, John Goodman, and Sandra Bullock. Oskar will be played by a 12-year-old, Thomas Horn, who was a jeopardy kids' week champion. The kid playing Oskar looks like he's perfect for the role (plus he won at Jeopardy so we know he has the smarts). The only thing is I'm a little heartbroken it's going to be a movie... I'm sure it will be a good one, but there's no way it could possibly compare to the experience of reading the book. I know that's usually the case, but it's especially so in this case. I'm definitely with some of the others that this book won't be for everyone, but for those who like the style, it's absolutely fantastic!!

Who's Going to BEA 2011....??

Friday, January 7, 2011

By this time last year, I had planned for sure to attend BEA and had even registered already. Yet, this year I haven't even put much thought into it yet! Of course, I want to go... I think it's one of those things that once you go once you feel like you can't possibly miss the next one! PLUS, some of my bloggy friends who didn't make it this year are thinking about going this year and how can I miss the opportunity to meet them too???

But, alas, flying to and staying in NYC is mucho $$$, plus the cost of registration and, just paying for food is also a lot of $$$. We just spent a TON of money on our recent NYC Christmas trip, and I've got a lot to pay for in the upcoming months such as two medical procedures.

But I can't stand the thought of not going!!!
So, anyway, I was just curious what everyone's plans are for BEA/BBC?? Do you plan on attending? I did talk with the hubby about it the other night and we agreed that we would plan on going, but we'll discuss further in a couple months to see where exactly we are financially. It might be a matter of we will go but can't really take part in the other fun NYC activities.

So let me know your plans! And does anyone know what the status is on registration? Do we have to register by a certain time (for BEA or just for BBC?) And have any of you already registered?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Title: Matched
Author: Ally Condie
Pages: 366
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Release Date: November 30, 2010

Matched by Ally Condie was one of the most hyped up books at 2010's Book Expo America. It's the first in a planned trilogy about a dystopian society where the government matches people up with who they are to marry, what jobs they'll hold, etc. Except, for Cassia, the main character in this book, it all goes terribly wrong when something malfunctions and, while viewing the micro-chip that holds all the information about the boy she is matched with, she sees a second person's face for a split second.

I've seen some wonderful reviews for this, including being listed on many "best of" lists, but it just really didn't do it for me. Learning about the rules and functioning of this society was pretty interesting, but ultimately I didn't feel like there was really a whole lot to it. I did think the author did a good job of depicting how one small event or glimpse can cause someone to obsess over another and for feelings to build when they might not otherwise have. I could think back to my teen years and relate to this dynamic.

But other than that this was just an okay read for me. I finished reading it a couple weeks ago and my memory about it is already fairly vague. I will say I didn't think the ending was a cliffhanger like some reviewers said. I do agree with some reviewers, though, that some parts dragged slightly. I think I would have liked this book more if it had been maybe 75-100 pages shorter and more action packed. I would think this might be a better book for younger young adult readers except that I've read some good reviews by adults. I may read the second book to see where it goes, but I'm not dying to read it.

I was wondering, though... are we choosing teams for this one? Because if so, I'm Team Xander!!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Resolve to Read in 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Top Ten Books I Resolve to Read in 2011
These are pretty much in no particular order...
  1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
    Okay, so I'm sort of cheating because I already started reading this one. But only because I had so resolved to! I'm only about a quarter of the way through so I can still put it on this list. =)
  2. In The Woods by Tana French
    Why have I not read this yet?? I've heard it's such a great series!
  3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
    See #2
  4. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
    I haven't ready any of his books either and I need to see what the hype is all about!
  5. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
    Oh I've heard such great things, and this one has a sequel coming out this spring!! Must read it first!
  6. Lowboy by John Wray
    I am sooo intrigued by the premise of this one!! A kid with Schizophrenia... riding the NYC subway all day... plus my hubby read it and thinks I'll like it.
  7. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
    I had already thought this one looked good so I added it to my TBR. But I found out Carrie at Nomadreader looooved this one and since she also loved Room and especially If You Follow Me, I knew I would have to read this one too!
  8. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
    I don't know much about this one but I feel like this is an author I should read and like this is one of those powerful kind of books. Plus I have a giveaway copy of this when I finally get around to reading and reviewing it!!
  9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
    It's a classic I've been meaning to get to for years. In fact, this was the first experience I had buying a used book online (ebay) prior to joining paperbackswap and I got a horrible quality book so I got mad and didn't read it, lol. I've since bought a super pretty copy from the bookstore but still need to get to reading it!
  10. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
    Not only have I not read anything by this author before and need to, but I reallly had planned it around the time the movie came out, then around Halloween, etc. and it never amounted to anything. I really want to read it. Especially so I can then watch the movie too!!

On a side note, I already own a copy of every single one of these books... so I have no excuse!!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Title: Zeitoun
Author: Dave Eggers
Pages: 335
Genre: Narrative Non-Fiction
Publisher: McSweeney's Publishing
Release date: July 15, 2009

Though I had been intrigued by this book for some time, I admit I was was in the consensus of some other readers and bloggers who were hesitant for fears of what it would contain. First of all, it took me a good minute, before deciding if I wanted to read it, to figure out if it was fiction or non-fiction (it's non-fiction, but narrative in style). I was afraid it would be too heart wrenching or distressing for me to read about the tragedy that befell the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And I was also afraid it would be fraught with too much anti-establishmentarianism and that it would be too preachy in this manner that I would be turned off.

I wish I would have listened to the scores of bloggers who said it was none of this and to READ it because it was really good.... because they were right, of course! I didn't feel that it was any of those things that I mentioned. Zeitoun was a straightforward story, engagingly told, about the Zeitoun family and the events that took place following Hurricane Katrina. Sure, there were some parts that I felt sad, frustrated, or upset, but that's a given with the topic. But never once did I feel distressed, like I was being manipulated by the author in any way. I thought this was an authentic telling of what happened.

Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun and their four children are a Muslim American family who resided in New Orleans in August of 2005. They were fairly well off family with a succesful painting and contracting business, Zeitoun A. Painting Contractors, LLC. They were well-known and respected in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Abdulrahman (typically referred to by just his last name, Zeitoun), stayed behind to keep an eye on their home, their clients' homes, and their properties. Zeitoun is famous for riding around in his canoe in the water after the storm helping out stranded people and animals. But this book isn't so much about the actual storm itself but other events that took place that were connected to the storm occurring but weren't directly related. These other, horrid, acts against human rights somehow managed to elude my knowledge at the time. Maybe it's because around August of 2005 I didn't watch as much news as I do now. Who knows. But I am a little horrified that I was ignorant of these events. For those who aren't aware I don't want to "spoil" the story for you, but for those of you who do know, it had to do with the acts at "Camp Greyhound" and Hunt Correctional Center.

Combined with the the story of these specific events is woven in the story of Zeitoun's family and what it's like living as a Muslim in America. His wife, Kathy, is a Caucasian American and also has stories of discrimination she has endured. Though not preachy in any way, I managed to learn a lot about Islam through reading this book and feel I have even a better understanding of their religion (or it may just show how ignorant I've been of it until now).

The Zeitoun family is one I came to know and love through reading their story. They represent wonderful people who deserve the love around them, who do what they can to help others around them, and who also represent a great work ethic that is inspirational. They're a family I would love to know in real life and who will stay with me for a while. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has the slightest interest in it as well as those who aren't interested at all... ;) The writing is engaging, and despite some more difficult parts, it didn't stress me out the way I feared it would, but ultimately warmed my heart because of the people at the center of the story.

2011 Reading Resolutions

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year everyone!!

I guess the title of this post is sort of a misnomer because I don't really have any major resolutions. The major thing I'd like to do is read MORE. Even though I'm keeping my second job once I finish school in March, I'll still have more free time than I have in a very long time. For the nth year in a row, I'm hoping to read 100 books. The closest I've come is 85. We shall see!

One slight change you may see is reviews of more non-fiction books. For some reason I've been gaining interest in this genre fast! Hopefully you all won't mind seeing more of these. I think the non-fiction ones I have coming up are interesting enough topics. Some will be controversial, so please be kind if you have any thoughts!

I'm hoping this will be the year that I will finally be able to fully participate in the 24 hour read-a-thon. We shall see!

I've joined a few challenges so far, but as always, I am not going to stress them at all and merely see where I end up by the end of the challenge.

My only other bookish plan is to read more deliberately -- isn't that what everyone's calling the trend of focusing my reading on what I want rather than feeling pressured for any other reason? Yep, that's what I'm going to do. And I have to admit that even though I hated being away from my blog from so long, taking a break when much needed from that (and reading) was nice too. No pressure is my new motto... lol.

Happy New Year of Reading! =)